Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper -- By: Don Garlington

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper
Author: Don Garlington

Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper

Don Garlington


Recent days have seen the publication of a new study from Dr. John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002). According to one reader, Dr. Piper’s book is “certainly the most solid defense of the imputed righteousness of Christ since the work of John Murray fifty years ago” (John Frame, from the back cover). This book emerges from vigorous contemporary debate over the cardinal issues of imputation, justification and righteousness, and represents a reaffirmation of the traditional Protestant position on these questions.

It must be clarified from the outset that this response to Piper’s book represents a kind of “mediating” position. Not that the purpose is to bridge a gap simply for the sake of being a “peacemaker,” but rather that the baby is not to be thrown out with the bath water. That is to say, the intention of the doctrine of imputation is not to be disputed: our righteousness comes from Christ and is for that reason an “alien righteousness.” However, it is a question of modality. The prophets anticipate the day when the Lord himself will become our righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16), corresponding to the time when none other than his Servant will make many righteous

(Isaiah 53:11). But how precisely does this transpire? It is the contention of this article that the free gift of righteousness comes our way by virtue of union with Christ, not imputation as classically defined.

The design of this study is to engage Piper’s exegetical/theological arguments. The introductory material pertaining to the setting in family, church, culture and nations is really not in dispute. Every Christian would agree that justification by faith is vital for the preservation and well-being of each; and certainly Christians of every stripe must concur that September 11 was a vivid and tragic confirmation that Islam violently rejects the foundation of our salvation—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

But in their own way, these remarks tellingly bring to the fore a central issue in Piper’s presentation. Throughout his book, Dr. Piper assumes that justification by faith and imputation are tantamount to each other, as though the former could not exist apart from the latter. So, it is well from the outset of this response to go on record that justification b...

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